Thursday, February 22, 2018
Public safety

Two dead in Clearwater after personal watercraft collides with tour boat

CLEARWATER — Two people on a personal watercraft died Saturday evening after colliding with a tour boat near the Clearwater Memorial Causeway bridge.

Around 6:10 p.m., about an hour before sunset, a 51-year-old man and a 49-year-old woman on a rented personal watercraft crashed into a double-deck tour boat on a dolphin-sighting cruise, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is investigating.

The pair were from out of state, and authorities did not release their identities Saturday night.

No one on the tour boat, from the Tropics Boat Tours out of Clearwater, was injured.

Around 10 p.m., the tour boat's owner, Trisha Rodriguez of Palm Harbor, came off the boat at its dock near Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach.

"Our thoughts and our prayers are with the family affected by this tragic accident," she said, voice cracking. "This has never happened to us before. It's a tragedy."

Investigators at the scene asked her not to answer questions about the number of passengers on the tour boat or share other details about the incident, citing their active investigation.

But passengers leaving the tour boat earlier in the evening told 25-year-old Gabby Velas of Orlando that the water scooter crashed after trying to outrun the boat in a game of chicken. Velas ran to see what happened when a half dozen ambulances and fire trucks came racing up to the tour boat, which was docked next to her Clearwater Beach hotel.

The passengers said the tour boat's captain tried to cut the engine to avoid a crash, but it was too late, Velas said.

Investigators were still talking to the tour boat's captain late Saturday to better understand what happened.

Rodriguez said all the Tropics Boat Tours cruises today were canceled out of respect to the deceased.

Wildlife commission spokesman Baryl Martin said the incident should remind everyone of the hazards of personal watercraft.

This is the second fatal accident this month involving a water scooter in the area. Fifteen-year-old Katie Yale of Seminole died after a Labor Day collision between the inner tube she was riding on Lake Seminole and a personal watercraft.

In March 2012, Victor Vazquez, 40, of Indian Rocks Beach died after the personal watercraft he was riding struck a channel marker in the Intracoastal Waterway in Indian Rocks Beach. Vazquez was a passenger. The driver, Robert Turnbull, 35, of Indian Rocks Beach, was intoxicated, authorities said, and was charged with boating under the influence, manslaughter and vessel homicide.

In January 2012, Ryan Burke, 30, of Lutz was killed and a woman was injured when two personal watercrafts collided on Lake Hobbs in Lutz. Burke and the woman had been riding at night and not wearing life jackets, authorities said, in violation of state law.

"Slow down. It increases your reaction time and gives you space that could save your life," Martin said. "People think these things are toys, but they're not."

Times staff writer Will Hobson contributed to this report.

Comments
Two male students arrested for threatening their schools; no weapons found

Two male students arrested for threatening their schools; no weapons found

Two male students were arrested Wednesday on charges that they made threats against their respective schools, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.The threats were not credible and neither took steps to carry out those threats, deput...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Former Florida Rep. Robert Wallace jumps from Tampa overpass

Former Florida Rep. Robert Wallace jumps from Tampa overpass

TAMPA — Former Florida state Rep. Robert Wallace ended his life Monday night by jumping from a Dale Mabry Highway overpass, records show. He was 65.At least one witness saw Wallace plunge 40 to 50 feet onto Gunn Highway, according to a Hillsborough C...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Two male students arrested for threatening their schools; no weapons found

Two male students were arrested Wednesday on charges that they made threats against their respective schools, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.The threats were not credible and neither took steps to carry out those threats, deput...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Man arrested after 3-year-old girl in his care found wandering streets

Man arrested after 3-year-old girl in his care found wandering streets

PORT RICHEY — A 59-year-old man was arrested Tuesday evening after a 3-year-old girl in his care was found wandering outside alone, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said they were sent to Larry Dixon’s residence at 8710 Bench D...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Largo police investigating fatal hit-and-run crash on East Bay Drive

Largo police investigating fatal hit-and-run crash on East Bay Drive

LARGO — Police have identified the pedestrian in a fatal hit-and-run Wednesday morning.According to Largo police, 75-year-old John William English Jr. was struck and killed by a car about 6 a.m. at Wertz Drive. The crash shut down the eastbound lanes...
Published: 02/21/18
Parents of Seminole Heights killings suspect processed at jail for house arrest

Parents of Seminole Heights killings suspect processed at jail for house arrest

TAMPA — The parents of a man accused in last year’s Seminole Heights killings reported to a Hillsborough County jail Wednesday morning to be outfitted with the GPS monitors they’ll wear during their six months of house arrest.Rosita Donaldson was boo...
Published: 02/21/18
Police: Teen, 17, shoots Pinellas Park man who confronted him after car break-in

Police: Teen, 17, shoots Pinellas Park man who confronted him after car break-in

PINELLAS PARK — A Pinellas Park teen faces a charge of attempted murder after police say he stole a gun from an unlocked vehicle and shot the owner as he tried to give chase.Police say Brandon Paul Roman, 17, faces charges including attempted murder,...
Published: 02/21/18
Pedestrian killed by hit-and-run driver in Tampa

Pedestrian killed by hit-and-run driver in Tampa

TAMPA — A pedestrian was fatally struck by a hit-and-run vehicle early Wednesday morning.Police say the pedestrian died at the scene after being struck in the 6900 block of E Adamo Drive.Eastbound lanes are closed at S Maydell Drive, according to the...
Published: 02/21/18
Her brother was a Hillsborough firefighter. Then he overdosed. What she hopes you learn from her hero.

Her brother was a Hillsborough firefighter. Then he overdosed. What she hopes you learn from her hero.

Editor’s note: This essay was written for the Tampa Bay Times by Dina Perez, the sister of Nick Perez, a Hillsborough County Fire Rescue employee who died in 2016 at age 27.You see firefighters and first responders on TV and they look like superheroe...
Published: 02/20/18
Updated: 02/21/18
Fingerprint on Gatorade bottle leads to arrest of man, 23, in sexual assault of 71-year-old woman

Fingerprint on Gatorade bottle leads to arrest of man, 23, in sexual assault of 71-year-old woman

NEW PORT RICHEY — The 23-year-old man wanted in connection with sexually assaulting a 71-year-old woman on Monday left behind the clue that deputies said led them right to him: A fingerprint on a Gatorade bottle.Deputies said that and other evidence ...
Published: 02/20/18